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VOL. 43 | NO. 23 | Friday, June 7, 2019

Sounds' Dillard helps minor leaguers solve major issue

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-- Photograph, By Scott Paulus, Provided

Taco Bell. If there’s a restaurant that sums up the minor league baseball experience, it might as well be Taco Bell, at least if you ask Nashville Sounds side-arm slinger Tim Dillard.

Of his 16 years scratching the rubber to get to The Show, 13 of them have been at the AAA level, with brief call-ups to the majors four times between 2008 and 2012, all with the Milwaukee Brewers.

When those same Brewers had a relationship with the Nashville Sounds, Dillard liked our fair city enough to settle here with his family. When Sounds management severed ties with the Brewers – the year before the sparkling new stadium was built in Germantown – Dillard played in Colorado Springs but kept his family in Nashville.

The baseball winds are shifty, though, sometimes helping batters and other times pitchers. The Brewers shifted their AAA operations to San Antonio, “Closer to sea level,” as Dillard says, and he saw the writing on the wall. “I thought my career was over, but I was at peace.”

When you talk with Dillard, though, you find a gregarious, likable guy with a quick wit and a love for quoting lines from his favorite movies. He’s made a lot of friends along the way, and those friends often end up in high places.

“I remember the Texas Rangers always had a lot of side-arm guys in the bullpen, so when I would see them I was selling myself, even when I had a job, going, ‘Hey man, you guys like sidearmers?’” he says laughing.

It turns out they did want him, and that the Ranger’s skipper, Chris Woodward, played shortstop with Dillard with the Sounds in 2008. After the Rangers’ spring training, they assigned Dillard to their new AAA affiliate, the Nashville Sounds.

Yes, that was really convenient. Besides getting to sleep in his own bed when the Sounds are in town, it’s also allowed Dillard to break the all-time strikeouts record for the Sounds franchise at 358, breaking Jamie Werly’s record of 352, which stood for the last 36 years.

What’s kept him around this long, though, is that sense of humor and the clubhouse leadership a veteran brings. AAA rosters are getting younger and younger, so players who have been around the diamond a long time are value-added mentors on the roster.

“One thing they never tell you when you get into professional baseball is you have to kinda grow up,” he says of players who might be straight out of high school or just out of college, learning to navigate leases and laundry.

Dillard’s humor and now-famous videos – he has more than 46,000 followers of his Instagram account, @DimTillard – help diffuse the tension of expectations and performance pressure for guys who are used to being the best player on every team they’ve been on and may be facing the first serious challenge to their talent.

The distractions help, too, as he knows he’s in the end days of his playing career. His playing with Twitter and Instagram has helped him create a brand and promote his website, where he sells his trademark beanie and sunglasses.

Dillard also launched a podcast, “The Show and Go,” along with Franklin resident Ben Zobrist (Chicago Cups, 2016 World Series MVP), local athletic trainer Joshua Costello and Trevecca Nazarene University head baseball coach Ryan Schmalz.

“The Brewers let me do their social media for a while,” he says with a grin, adding he also “sang onstage at the Univision Deportes awards show.” Clearly, Dillard is comfortable with a microphone in front of him and, with any luck, will entertain us from a broadcast booth after he hangs up his glove.

It’s that Taco Bell thing that got us going, though.

To understand minor league life, you have to imagine leaving the clubhouse after a late game, after your rehab and ice bath, after the shower. In many cities and towns, players are left with few late-night culinary choices.

Dillard says that when he was assigned to the Texas training camp this past spring, the Rangers put him up in an apartment right next to the stadium. That meant he didn’t need a car, but old habits die hard.

“The first thing I did was look up how long it would take me to walk to the nearest Taco Bell,” he says, pausing, waiting for me to ask the obvious question. “53 minutes,” he adds with a big grin.

While cheap eats are part of life on the lower rungs, he says he and his wife enjoy Chauhan’s Ale & Masala House for date nights and take the kids to Burger Up. “I have to manage what the kids order, because I usually just end up finishing their plates.”

I ask if he has any suggestions for his new teammates, and he says he has to size up the player first. While Dillard loves steakhouse Kayne Prime, he notes he wouldn’t suggest it for a rookie without a big contract. “Now the kid in a three-piece suit dressed up for travel, yeah, Kayne Prime.”

Dillard has enjoyed the season and getting to know his new teammates. While he says they somehow don’t share his same infatuation with Taco Bell, the team does enjoy gathering at Von Elrod’s or Jack Brown’s Beer and Burger Joint.

And what about Nashville’s hot chicken? “A few guys tried Hattie B’s. They thought it was good, but a little overhyped.”

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